Wantan noodles is a quintessential Cantonese breakfast noodle dish which seemed ubiquitous wherever the Cantonese settle. However, variations abound as the Cantonese adapt their noodle dish to suit local palates and culinary practices.
HK-style wantan noodles put great emphasis on the broth, oftentimes guarded like a matter of life-and-death by the different master chefs running the traditional wantan noodle establishments. HK-style wantan noodle broth are the result of boiling prawn shells, chicken bones, pork bones, dried tile fish, dried shrimp eggs (“ha-chi”) and the dried Buddha’s palm vegetable/fruit. Noodles are served al dente, covered in the tasty broth, accompanied by shrimp dumplings: marinated fresh shrimps wrapped in gossamer-thin wantan wrapping, then topped with yellow chives.
Singapore-style wantan noodles is the version I grew up with. Singapore-style often eschews the soup version which characterizes the HK version. Instead, Singapore-style wantan noodles are stretchy (perhaps betraying its strong Hakka influences - the Hakkas outnumber the Cantonese in Singapore), dressed in lard, garlic/shallot oil and very spicy chilli paste. The noodles will be served with char-siew (Chinese BBQ pork) and wantan dumplings. In Singapore, if one asks for the non-spicy version of the wantan noodles, the spicy chili paste will be substituted with tomato ketchup to give the noodles a reddish tinge.
KL-style wantan noodles - my personal favourite version. The noodles are not as toothsome as the HK or Singapore versions. What sets apart KL-style wantan noodles are the blend of dark & light soysauces, oyster sauce, drippings from the char-siew, sesame oil, lard and other condiments used to dress the noodles - also served dry. Poached wantan dumplings will be served in a light soup in a small bowl on the side, topped with chopped scallions (never yellow chives). KL-style wantan noodles do not have chili paste, but pickled green chilis will be provided as a side-condiment, usually drizzled with light soysauce.
Penang-style wantan noodles is very similar to its KL counterpart as it’s served dry and dressed in dark soysauce-based dressing, but is characterised by its al dente-textured noodles, which is closer to the HK wantan noodles. I find Penang-style wantan noodles to be less tasty than the KL version, blander. Penang-style wantan noodles also often include deep-fried (besides poached) wantan dumplings nowadays. In recent years, spicy chili paste is provided besides pickled green chilis (or both).
The version served at this popular 38-year-old wantan noodle stall in 34 Acheen Street is typical of Penang wantan noodles:
Mr Ng, the wantan noodle vendor here is actually Teochew (not Cantonese) - which also probably explains the “blander” flavours of the food, as Teochews prefer lighter tastes.
Acheen Street Wantan Noodles (打石街雲吞麵)
Acheen Street (Lebuh Acheh)
10200 George Town, Penang
Opening hours: 7.15am to 1pm daily